Coronavirus update: N.J. says more patients leaving hospitals than entering; Pa. opens benefits portal for gig workers

Pennsylvanians who meet the requirements — anyone not eligible for regular unemployment compensation — can now apply online.

A person wearing a protective face mask and gloves as a precaution against the coronavirus walks through Love Park, in Philadelphia, Monday, April 13, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

A person wearing a protective face mask and gloves as a precaution against the coronavirus walks through Love Park, in Philadelphia, Monday, April 13, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

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As of Saturday, there are 31,581 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 81,420 in New Jersey, and 2,538 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 9,014 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 1,042, New Jersey’s at 4,070, and Delaware’s at 67. Philadelphia’s death toll is 343.

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Updated 9:24 a.m. Sunday

N.J. hospitalizations leveling out

More people in New Jersey are now leaving hospitals after being treated for COVID-19 than are entering them, Gov. Phil Murphy said Saturday.

There were 3,026 new positive cases reported in the state, with 7,718 currently hospitalized and 1,641 ventilators in use.

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In a briefing Saturday, Murphy reminded residents that COVID-19 is nothing like the flu. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people have died in New Jersey in the last six weeks from COVID-19 than have died of the flu during the last three flu seasons combined.

“This is a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in a century,” Murphy said. “If you’ve been keeping your eyes and your mind closed to the facts and science, please, I beg of you to open them. Open them wide before you, God forbid, become one of the numbers I report here every day.”

The governor added that he had a concerning call with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday night that there is not strong momentum in Congress right now to put any amount of money into direct state aid. Murphy said that would “lead unequivocally to a national disaster.”

Murphy said New Jersey is currently looking at what the Federal Reserve has presented in terms of a potential municipal bond program. Without the ability to borrow money from the federal government, he said, the number of layoffs in the state will be “historic.”

Montco reports highest single-day bump in cases

Montgomery County reported 201 new positive COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the highest single-day increase since the virus was first reported in the suburban Philadelphia county.

The news came two days after the county opened its new community-based testing site at the Montgomery County Community College campus in Whitpain Township.

“Today’s large number of positive test results, which include the first results from the reopened community-based testing site on April 16, demonstrate the importance of testing to understand the spread of the virus in our community and the continued need to stay at home except for essential work and essential errands,” Montgomery County Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh said.

It brings the countywide total to 2,623 confirmed cases, the second highest in Pennsylvania after Philadelphia. Twelve more people also had died as of Saturday, bringing the county’s death total to 147.

Self-swab testing at the community college is available by appointment only Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Pa. unemployment portal for self-employed, gig workers goes live

State residents who are self-employed, independent contractors, or gig workers can now apply for unemployment benefits through the state’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance portal.

PUA is the new federal expansion to unemployment benefits provided by the CARES Act. Pennsylvanians who meet the requirements — anyone not eligible for regular unemployment compensation — can now apply online. 

The state Department of Labor and Industry anticipates a high volume of applications over the next few days that may slow the system temporarily. The state hopes to start making payments to approved claimants within two to four weeks after initial claims are submitted.

Members of the clergy and other religious organizations are also among those eligible to apply for the assistance program, which provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits.

N.J. officials discuss COVID-19’s impact on communities of color

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said state officials, lawmakers and health professionals are discussing ways to mitigate the disproportionate rates at which African Americans are testing positive for COVID-19.

Earlier this week, Persichilli spoke with members of the Medical Society of New Jersey who said health professionals in these communities are currently relying on telehealth, which can make reaching patients in need of medical attention more difficult. The association supports more testing in community clinics, particularly at federally qualified health centers.

“Your ZIP code sometimes matters more than your genetic code,” Persichilli said. “We must ensure that all of our communities stay safe and healthy during these difficult times.”

According to early data from the CDC, of the coronavirus cases in which the person’s race was identified, 30% identified as Black or African American.

Philly gets 86K N95 masks from FEMA

The Philadelphia Health Department announced 451 new positive COVID-19 cases Saturday.

An additional 10 individuals who are incarcerated in city facilities have tested positive, bringing the citywide total to 123 positive cases at its four correctional facilities. (City officials report 61 COVID-19 cases inside the facilities, but that does not include those who have tested positive and then recovered or been released.)

Of the city’s 343 fatalities, 50% were long-term care facility residents.There are currently 1,637 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the Philadelphia region.

The city’s Emergency Operations Center received a delivery of more than 86,000 N95 masks, hand sanitizer, and other supplies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is working now to inventory the items.

The masks will go to first responders and health care workers in Philadelphia who are involved in the city’s COVID-19 response. The Emergency Operations Center’s Logistics Section was distributing three-ply masks, face shields, and gowns to area hospitals Saturday from previous inventory.

City, PIDC dole out first round of small-business grants, loans

Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. and the City of Philadelphia have awarded $9.2 million in the first round of the COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund to more than 1,100 businesses.

The fund is a $12.2 million grant and loan program to help the city’s small businesses maintain payroll and preserve jobs affected by closures during the pandemic.

“Philadelphia’s small businesses are the backbone of our city’s economy, and they have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “These grants and loans will provide a much-needed lifeline to some of them. Through this targeted program, we’re able to spread limited resources to help a diverse group of more than 1,100 businesses in neighborhoods all across the city.”

The fund received more than 7,300 applications in total. The businesses range from restaurants and hospitality to retail.

Fifty percent of the businesses that received funding are in low- to moderate-income census tracts, and 60% went to businesses owned by people of color, of the 80% of business owners who reported demographic data.

Philly hospitals are nearing capacity

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine announced 1,628 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday. About 1,558 of the total cases are now in health care workers. There are 2,601 people currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, roughly 8% of total cases;  639 people currently require ventilators.

Across the state’s health care system, 48% of hospital beds, 41% of ICU beds, and more than 70% of ventilators are still available.

Levine also said Saturday that there are some hospitals in the Philadelphia region that are “challenged” and nearing capacity. The Health Department is working closely with those hospitals and health departments to track their capacity and make sure they have adequate access to testing and personal protective equipment, she said.

If a hospital is getting close to capacity, Levine said, the state will work with them to transfer patients if necessary. Philadelphia has a COVID surge facility at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, which opened on Thursday with no patients.

Mass testing site opens in Wilkes-Barre

A drive-through COVID-19 testing site will open Monday at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre.

Pennsylvania reports 1,712 confirmed cases in Luzerne County, and 620 and 184 cases in neighboring Lackawanna and Columbia counties.

The testing site will have a soft launch from noon to 4 p.m. Monday, and will be open for 100 first responders and health care workers in northeastern Pennsylvania who have COVID-19 symptoms.

Registration is required at least one day in advance. There will be no on-site registration.

Starting Tuesday, April 21, the site will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to test 200 people who are either over the age of 65, first responders, or health care workers. Patients do not need prescriptions to be tested at this site. Results will be processed by the state’s laboratory and should be made available in two to three business days.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to restart Pennsylvania’s economy, announced Friday, noted that adequate testing — which Pennsylvania appears not to have yet — is required to lift the stay-at-home orders.

State Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Saturday that these mass testing sites offer a path forward to increase access to testing.

“We are working on all of those factors in terms of relaxing the social distancing and mitigation factors in certain areas of Pennsylvania as we proceed,” Levine said. “We will need to expand testing especially in those areas, where social distancing particularly associated with businesses would potentially be relaxed.”

Pa. business-to-business directory for critical medical supplies

The state’s Department of Community and Economic Development announced Saturday the creation of the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Business-to-Business Interchange Directory, to connect businesses and organizations in need of personal protective equipment directly to manufacturers.

The interchange gathers information from the state’s Manufacturing Call to Action Portal and the Pennsylvania Critical Medical Supplies Procurement Portal. The directory currently includes manufacturers of N95 masks, fabric masks, and other types of surgical masks.

“Over the past month, the Wolf administration has been working directly with businesses across the commonwealth to identify their capabilities and needs and move products quickly from the manufacturing floor to the marketplace,” said Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin. “Through this process, we recognized that we can help foster direct business connections to provide Pennsylvanians access to critical supplies expeditiously without a middleman. The creation of the B2B Interchange Directory reflects our commitment to responding to the needs of Pennsylvania’s businesses in a streamlined, easily accessible manner.”

10 people have died at a Chesco veterans nursing home

At least 10 residents of the Southeastern Veterans Center in Spring City, Chester County, have died of COVID-19, and dozens of residents and staff have tested positive for the coronavirus in April so far, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. As of Wednesday, the National Guard had sent 30 members to assist employees of the 238-bed nursing home, and body bags have been sent to the facility by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Coatesville.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has not publicly disclosed all the nursing homes or long-term care facilities that have COVID-19 cases. But the Spotlight PA reporting partnership was able to identify nearly 50 facilities with confirmed cases.

As of Saturday, 4,185 residents and 462 employees of long-term care facilities had tested positive. Those cases are scattered among 347 different facilities, and 462 people have died.

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