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Coronavirus update: Governors urge virtual gatherings for religious holidays; N.J. deaths exceed state toll from 9/11

A man walks on Market Street in Wilmington, Del., wearing a protective mask Friday March 27, 2020. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

A man walks on Market Street in Wilmington, Del., wearing a protective mask Friday March 27, 2020. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

Updated 5:52 p.m.

As of Saturday afternoon, there are 10,415 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 34, 124 in New Jersey, and 593 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 3,008 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 138, New Jersey’s at 846, and Delaware’s at 14.

N.J. coronavirus death toll surpasses state’s 9/11 loss

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Saturday that another 4,331 residents tested positive for coronavirus since Friday, and that an additional 200 residents have died, showing the state’s continued exponential growth.

“Let me put this in a proper, yet very, sobering context: We have now lost nearly 100 more of our fellow New Jerseyans to COVID-19 than we did on the Sept. 11 attacks,” Murphy said during a press briefing. “This pandemic is writing one of the greatest tragedies in our state’s history, and just as we have committed to never forgetting those lost on 9/11, we must commit to never forgetting those we are losing to this pandemic.”

On 9/11, 704 New Jersey residents died.

After a moment of silence, Murphy remembered a few of the lives lost due to complications from the virus, including retired Col. Samuel Fuoco of Eatontown in Monmouth County, as well as Jesus Villaluz — a patient transport worker at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, where he worked for 27 years.

Flags are flying at half-staff throughout New Jersey for those who have died related to COVID-19.

At Saturday’s press briefing, Murphy also said he spoke earlier in the day to Vice President Mike Pence to reiterate the Garden State’s dire need for roughly 1,650 ventilators from the national stockpile. He said he also spoke to Pence, as well as Jared Kushner, about Federal Emergency Management Agency operations in the state, personal protective equipment, and the importance of the Treasury Department being as flexible as possible when distributing funds from the CARES Act to the states.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli discussed the “stress and fear” of  New Jerseyans who have loved ones in the state’s long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities. As of Saturday, coronavirus is in one-third of the state’s long-term care facilities.

Family members have expressed growing concern about the lack of communication in those settings when a resident has been confirmed to have COVID-19. Earlier this month, the state sent a letter to all its long-term care facilities reminding them of their responsibility under the law to have an outbreak response plan, including clear policies to notify residents, their residents’ families, visitors and staff when a COVID-19 case is confirmed within the facility.

Persichilli said she will send a follow-up to the state’s facilities with specific guidance on how to notify residents, staff and family members. The commissioner said it must be both in-person and in-writing to all residents as well as staff members.

For family members or guardians, a notification via telephone or email must be followed up in writing with a letter within three days.

The commissioner said that if the state is not notified by the close of business on Monday that these directives are in place, the state will release the names of the long-term care facilities that have confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Murphy: Please stay home ahead of religious holidays

In advance of Palm Sunday and Holy Week services, Gov. Murphy is asking New Jersey residents to stay home and not take communion.

These religious observances — along with Easter and Passover, and with the beginning of Ramadan fast approaching — are a great concern to the governor and religious officials in the state because they are a time when people want to congregate the most.

“Our desire, clearly, is to come together,” Murphy said. “That’s only natural. We are humans. But our need and our mandate is to find a way to observe and celebrate separately.”

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf and religious leaders statewide also encourage alternate forms of meeting for the coming holidays.

Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine have updated the state’s stay-at-home order with further guidance regarding religious gatherings. The guidance notes that the order doesn’t deter religious institutions from operating but that religious leaders should “avoid endangering their congregants.”

Pennsylvanians should not host meetings in religious buildings or homes for services or celebrations throughout the duration of the stay-at-home order.

Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Peréz noted that Catholics in the state and worldwide are prepare to enter the holiest week of the year at a time when coronavirus has suddenly changed our lives.

“For the common good, and for the preservation of each other’s health, it is essential for all Pennsylvanians to heed the governor’s call not to gather in large groups,” Peréz said. “We must embrace our common responsibility to one another and slow the spread of this virus. We are blessed with the gifts of technology and social media, which enable us to experience the richness of these Holy Days virtually.”

Another large, single-day increase for Del.: up 143, to 593 cases

The Delaware Division of Public Health announced 143 new cases since Friday, including 32 new hospitalizations across the state.

No new coronavirus-related deaths were reported on Saturday to the state.

Delaware is considering patients fully recovered seven days after the resolution of their symptoms. Three days after symptoms resolve, patients are no longer required to self-isolate at home; however, they must continue to practice strict social distancing for the remaining four days before returning to their normal daily routines.

Eight of the 14 deaths reported so far have been in long-term care facilities, seven in New Castle County and one in Sussex County.

On Saturday, the Division of Public Health Lab received 5,000 rapid test kits from Pinnacle BioLabs, a Nashville-based company.

The kits will be used mostly to test health care workers, first responders, and residents of long-term care facilities where outbreaks are suspected. Results can be provided in five to 15 minutes.

After validation is completed, the department expects to start using the rapid test kits early next week.

Philly clusters continue in prisons, nursing homes

The city’s Department of Public Health noted continued growth of positive cases in close-quarters settings, including in its nursing homes, prisons and behavioral health facilities. Eight additional incarcerated individuals in Philly have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the citywide total to 39.

Sixteen of the city’s 35 deaths so far have been in long-term care facilities, and 77% of those who have died in Philadelphia were over the age of 70.

As of Saturday, 409 people are being treated for COVID-19 in Philadelphia hospitals. But while cases continue to rise, city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said there are still plenty of hospital beds available at this time.

The Health Department also noted the opening of a second city-run testing site, in addition to drive-through testing available in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia. This undisclosed site is open only to those over the age of 50 who have COVID-19 symptoms, as well as health care workers who have symptoms. The site is available by appointment only, and a referral is required.

Those who meet the criteria and want to be tested can call 267-491-5870 to receive a referral.

The department has also expanded its definition of a “health care worker.” It now includes:

  • Clinicians
  • EMS providers
  • Nursing home workers
  • Home care workers
  • Non-clinical staff who have direct patient contact
  • Behavioral health workers
  • Persons who work in congregate settings, including homeless shelters and prisons

Starting Monday, April 6, at 5 a.m., the city will close the 1300 block of Walnut Street between 13th and Juniper streets to vehicular traffic and parking in an effort to promote social distancing. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic will remain open. This follows the closure of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive earlier this month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

York County ICE detainee tests positive for coronavirus

An individual detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at York County Prison has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a release from the county on Saturday.

The individual — who has been incarcerated at the prison since Jan. 22 — has been isolated in negative-air housing since presenting symptoms. Negative air systems are used as isolation techniques to keep air inside a room from going into another.

The detainee is in stable condition and not hospitalized and will remain in isolation until cleared by a medical provider.

The individual’s housing unit has been quarantined with medical monitoring. Staff and other detainees who have been in contact with the infected person have been notified or are in the process of being notified about the positive result. The state Department of Health has also been notified.

According to the release, York County Prison has been preparing for the spread of COVID-19 within the facility and has instituted measures to avoid community spread, including suspension of its work-release program and restrictions on face-to-face visits, as well as enforcement of social distancing.

“We are aware that cases in our facility will be inevitable, as the prison system is a smaller-scale version of our community.”

Last week, as many as 180 immigrant detainees at York County Prison staged a hunger strike in protest of what they called insufficient precautions around the coronavirus pandemic.

Pa reports 1,597 new cases, 489 in health care workers

As of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, there were 1,597 new cases in Pennsylvania. About 489 of those cases so far are in health care workers, according to state Health Secretary Rachel Levine. In addition, 14% of the state’s 695 licensed nursing facilities have at least one case of COVID-19.

On Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that China and Oregon will be sending over 1,100 ventilators to that state to ease shortages. During Pennsylvania’s coronavirus briefing on Saturday, Levine said that, at the moment, the commonwealth has adequate capacity in terms of hospital beds and personal protective equipment (PPE) for its health care system statewide.

Levine said that the state has received PPE from the federal government and the national stockpile and that those resources have been pushed out to Pennsylvania hospitals and long-term-care facilities. The state has also purchased additional ventilators that will arrive this month to resource hospitals if needed.

“We want to anticipate and prepare for the surge, the rise of new cases that could occur over the next number of weeks or months, and to make sure we have the adequate resources for that time and so that is what we are preparing for,” Levine said.

Secretary Levine reminds Pa. residents of recovery resources, access to naloxone

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, state Health Secretary Rachel Levine said, the opioid crisis was the biggest public health crisis in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.

“While our efforts now are focused on this pandemic of COVID-19, the opioid epidemic and the substance abuse epidemic have not gone away,” she said.

The health secretary said that it is “critical” that state residents know during these already difficult times about the resources and treatment available. Drug and alcohol treatment providers are open and continue to accept patients during the pandemic.

Naloxone — an opioid overdose reversal drug — is also available to every Pennsylvanian, through a standing-order prescription issued by Levine.

Wolf asks Pennsylvanians to wear masks outdoors

At a Friday briefing, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf asked all state residents to wear masks, or other protective face coverings, when outdoors.

“Wearing a mask will help cut down the possibility that we will be infecting an innocent bystander,” Wolf said.

The governor advised residents to make their own face coverings if possible, to leave precious quantities of N95 surgical masks available for medical professionals. The state is offering a guide on how to make your own mask on its COVID-19 website. 

Supplies of surgical masks have been hard to come by. In Philadelphia, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the city had so far been unable to complete an order for 500,000 such masks officials sought earlier this week for municipal use.

Friday evening, President Donald Trump announced during the daily White House coronavirus briefing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also are recommending that Americans wear face coverings when in public to help fight the spread of coronavirus. The president immediately noted that he had no intention of following the advice himself, saying, “I’m choosing not to do it.”

The CDC recommended using rudimentary coverings like T-shirts and bandanas and non-medical masks, particularly in areas hit hard by the virus.

Singer Pink recovers from COVID; donates $500K to Temple hospital

In a pair of tweets on Friday, Pink, a Doylestown native, announced that she and her 3-year-old son displayed symptoms of the coronavirus two weeks ago, and that she tested positive after gaining access to tests through her primary care physician.

Pink said she and her son isolated at home, and as of a few days ago, they were tested again and were negative.

The Grammy Award-winning singer announced she is donating $1 million across two coronavirus-related relief funds, with $500,000 each going to the Temple University Hospital Fund in Philadelphia and a COVID-19 response fund for Los Angeles.

The Temple University donation honors the singer’s mother, Judy Moore, who worked at the hospital’s cardiomyopathy and heart transplant center for nearly two decades.

Pink called health care workers “heroes” and ended her post with an appeal to the public.

“These next two weeks are crucial: please stay home,” she wrote. “Please. Stay. Home.”

Earlier this week, another Grammy Award-winning singer, Lizzo, donated lunch to health care workers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

UPenn engineers, alums start GoFundMe for 3D-printed face shields

A team of engineers, alumni, and social entrepreneurs from the University of Pennsylvania have set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise $100,000 to 3D-print and distribute 25,000 face shields to health care workers in Philadelphia over the next four to six weeks.

Over the next three months, Project Shields hopes to produce 100,000 face shields, while applying to city, state, and federal funding sources to help scale this effort nationally. The  demand in the city now for personal protective equipment, including face shields and masks, is over 1 million units.

Currently, the team is assembling 400 masks per day and using 10 3D printers to create face shields daily. According to the team’s website, it is able to produce PPE much faster than other current initiatives.

As of Saturday morning, the team has raised over $35,000 since launching the GoFundMe campaign nearly a week ago.

WHYY’s Ryan Briggs and the Associated Press contributed reporting. 

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