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Coronavirus update: Pa. Gov. Wolf grants immunity to health care providers 

A couple in protective masks walk past the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Friday, April 3, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

A couple in protective masks walk past the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Friday, April 3, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Updated at 6:15 p.m.

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To date, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported 54,800 COVID-19 cases (including confirmed and probable cases). There are 131,890 cases in New Jersey and 5,778 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 16,697 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 3,284, New Jersey’s is at 8,549, and Delaware’s is at 193. Philadelphia’s death toll is 803.

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

Wolf grants immunity to health care providers 

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has signed an executive order that protects health care providers from malpractice suits for good faith COVID-19 care.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has required the Wolf Administration to take broad action to respond to and prepare for Pennsylvanians’ critical health care needs, so too has it required our health care providers to broaden their professional responsibilities and experiences like never before,” said Wolf in a statement.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society had been asking for this added protection as health care workers were treating a virus that’s still not well-understood.

Immunity does not cover instances such as gross negligence, fraud, and willful misconduct.

‘Wear a mask and save a mom’ says Philly Mayor Jim Kenney  

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney reminded residents to maintain social distancing guidelines this Mother’s Day. 

He said even small gatherings were dangerous if held among people who haven’t been sharing a household. 

Instead the mayor encouraged a Zoom video conference or, for the less tech-savvy, a regular phone call. 

“We owe it to our moms and mother figures in our lives to put their health and safety first,” he said. “So wear a mask and save a mom.”

The message comes as Philadelphia health officials reported 287 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 16,697.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Tom Farley, however, said numbers are likely artificially low because of lab reporting delays.

Farley announced 60 new deaths, with 53% of these fatalities taking place among nursing home residents.

Still, one congregate setting of concern is showing progress in the spread of COVID-19, according to Farley: jails. 

Farley said there are currently 26 incarcerated people who have the virus. Though the city has found 75% of the almost 250 inmates tested have been positive, there were zero new cases reported Wednesday.

Honored Montco flag tradition for veterans postponed to July 4 

It’s an annual Memorial Day tradition. Montgomery County’s Office of Veterans Affairs buys and distributes tens of thousands of flags that organizations, such as scout troops and churches, place across more than 200 locations, including graves.

Because of COVID-19 concerns, however, the tradition has been postponed.

“We will still honor our veterans who gave their lives and service to this great country on Memorial Day, but we will postpone the placing of flags until the Fourth of July holiday,” said Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

Arkoosh said she understood the frustration expressed by some veterans groups, but pointed to precautions neighbors were taking.

The Philadelphia National Cemetery is grappling with similar concerns about large gatherings. They issued an alert asking visitors to practice social distancing when visiting gravesites or to stay in their cars.

The American Legion, a war vets organization, plans to host a virtual memorial.

“Bringing these large numbers of groups together [to distribute flags] creates the very situation that we have been working so hard as a community to avoid,” she said, outlining other ways the county will honor veterans on Memorial Day.

The county will light its courthouse red, white, and blue and place flags with a mourning ribbon on the site’s grounds, said Arkoosh.

Should Montco families wish to visit the graves of loved ones, Arkoosh asked them to wear masks and practice social distancing. 

The change comes as the county reported 123 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the county’s total to 4,734 cases.

Of the new cases, more than half came from long-term care facilities, two of which conducted testing among most of their residents and accounted for the majority number of positives.

Residents have pointed to the drastic impact nursing home infections have on the county’s total number of new cases. Some have asked the governor to not count long-term care infections against the county when making decisions about lifting COVID-19 shutdowns. 

But at Wednesday’s briefing, Arkoosh said she doesn’t support the proposal.

She said while the residents may be isolated, the staff taking care of them on a daily basis, first responders transporting them to hospitals, and staff treating them once hospitalized are going home to families. 

“Those people are just coming back to our communities every night and there is another opportunity there for potential spread,” said Arkoosh. “These are not people that are some island that are in no way impacting the rest of us.”

Still, she is keeping a separate breakdown of cases in long-term care facilities, as opposed to the rest of the county, to better understand the spread of the virus.  

An additional 26 fatalities were reported Wednesday, a larger number than usually reported, which Arkoosh said was attributed to delays in confirming and reporting COVID-19 deaths. She said 16 of the 26 deaths actually took place in April.

Kenney not swayed by planned protests to re-open Philly

An “Open Up Philly” rally is slated to take place in front of City Hall Friday, but Mayor Jim Kenney is standing firm on continued COVID-19 shutdowns in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“We’ll open when [Health Commissioner] Dr. Farley and other medical experts tell us it’s time to open,” he said Wednesday.

Kenney said the city would treat the demonstration like it does any other, respecting their First Amendment rights. Though he reminded those planning to come out to wear a mask.

Health officials have cited health concerns over a lack of social distancing at these protests in other parts of the country.

Read more about the rally and concerns here.

Company donates 2k gallons of hand sanitizer to Pa. 

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency has received a donation of 2,000 gallons of hand sanitizer – enough for 22,000 12-ounce bottles – from a company with a location in the state.

Arkema Inc. makes hydrogen peroxide, among other products, and repurposed one of its production lines in New York facility to make the hand sanitizer.

“With materials like this currently difficult to purchase, we welcome this fresh supply to support our efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “We are grateful that Pennsylvania-based companies such as Arkema are stepping up to help us stop the spread.”

The company also made donations to New York, Tennessee, and Texas where it has other facilities.

Mother’s Day breast cancer research fundraiser going virtual 

For the first time in 29 years, Eakins Oval will not be home to thousands walking to raise money for breast cancer research and related services on Mother’s Day.

Originally slated for this Sunday, Susan G. Komen’s 2020 ‘More Than Pink’ Walk was canceled because COVID-19 concerns. The walk is going virtual on June 28 instead.

“While we love our Mother’s Day tradition and the dollars we raise are critical to our mission, we won’t put even just one life in harm’s way by having our standard event this year,” said Elaine I. Grobman, CEO of Komen Philadelphia. “But we have a very loyal community and creative minds at work to develop a virtual opportunity that we are confident will have all the celebration, emotion, community engagement and impact of our traditional event.”

Organizers encourage that supporters take part in the virtual walk this year in their neighborhoods.

Other components of the annual event are moving online too, including survivors’ stories and memorials for those who died.

Pa. offers new program to decontaminate N-95 masks

As personal protective equipment remains in short supply for Pennsylvania health care facilities and first responders, Gov. Tom Wolf has announced a new program to decontaminate N-95 masks.

Employees have reported reusing these masks, which can protect workers from 95% of airborne particles, despite the fact they’re designed as single-use. The new program Wolf announced Wednesday allows those masks to be reused up to 20 times. Doylestown Hospital has been using a similar sterilization system for more than a month.

The Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System, based in Delaware County, uses a vaporous hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate tens of thousands of masks each day. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for mask decontamination in March.

The decontaminations are paid for by the federal government. Organizations that qualify for the service — including law enforcement agencies, fire departments and emergency management agencies — only have to pay for shipping to and from the Delco site.

Some Pa. liquor stores to open for in-person orders Friday

Starting Friday, some Pennsylvania residents won’t have to roll the dice on the web or wait on the phone to order wine and spirits. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced Wednesday it plans to open 77 state-run liquor stores for in-store purchases in counties easing social distancing restrictions on May 8.

Find a list of stores, mostly in North and Northwestern Pennsylvania, here.

No more than 25 people will be allowed in these liquor stores at any given time, including employees, and in an effort to maintain proper social distancing, that number could be less for a particularly small store. Everyone inside will be required to wear face masks. Shoppers might also notice newly installed plexiglass by the registers.

State-run liquor stores started taking limited online orders at the beginning of April after shutting down its brick and mortars in mid-March. Seeing overwhelming demand, the PCLB expanded operations to curbside pickup.

Preliminary reports show almost 381,000 curbside orders totaling $29.1 million (including sales tax) over the past 2.5 weeks.

A list of all stores offering curbside pickup is available here.

News on Welcome America’s future expected May 12

Will Philadelphia’s July 4 mega-bash for America’s birthday take place this year? Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday residents can expect an update on May 12 regarding the status of Welcome America.

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