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Coronavirus update: First Philadelphia city employee dies from coronavirus

Philadelphia streets have slowed down in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia streets have slowed down in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated: 6:23 p.m.

As of Monday afternoon, there are 13,097 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 41,090 in New Jersey, and 783 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 3,728 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 150, New Jersey’s at 1,003, and Delaware’s at 15.

First city worker in Philadelphia dies from coronavirus

A lieutenant with the Philadelphia Police Department died over the weekend from the coronavirus. According to the city, he is the first city employee to die from COVID-19.

Lt. James Walker, 59, died Sunday at Abington Hospital in Montgomery County. He joined the force in 1987, last serving with the department’s Traffic Division. 

Walker leaves behind a wife and adult daughter. 

During a news conference on Monday, Mayor Jim Kenney said it’s unclear how Walker became infected. 

“This is a heartbreaking reminder that the virus is affecting people throughout our community — especially those on the frontlines,” said Kenney. 

“We should never forget the sacrifices of our officers and those on the frontlines battling this pandemic and working tirelessly to keep our great city safe,” added John McNesby, who leads the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the city’s police union. 

City officials would not say how many police officers have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The city is not planning on making any “major” changes to police conduct right now, said Kenney. 

“With that said, we are constantly assessing our protocols and will adjust them as necessary and/or as we receive additional PPE,” said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw in a statement. 

During the pandemic, officers are delaying arrests for nonviolent offenses. 

Walker’s death comes roughly three weeks after Cpl. James O’Connor was killed in the line of duty while his SWAT team was serving an arrest warrant for a man wanted for a March 2019 murder. 

O’Connor, 46, a 23-year veteran, was shot near his left shoulder blade and left forearm. He was pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital at 6:09 a.m. on March 13. 

Hassan Elliott, 21, is charged with fatally shooting O’Connor on the second floor of a Frankford apartment building.

Coronavirus testing at Citizens Bank Park to end on Friday

The city announced Monday it will be closing a coronavirus testing site outside Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia due to the federal government withdrawing resources. Mayor Jim Kenney said in a tweet that he supported the federal government’s decision.

Health Commissioner Farley said there are more than 20 other testing sites around the region and said the site in South Philadelphia was conducting less than ten percent of tests. He added that remaining sites were not dependent on partnership with the federal government.

“Everyone who needs a test in the City of Philadelphia should be able to get it,” Farley said.

Pa. unemployment claims pass 1 million

Pennsylvanians have filed more than 1.1 million unemployment claims since March 15 – triple the three-week period leading into the commonwealth rolling out coronavirus mitigation directives, state Department of Labor and Industry officials said Monday.

The deluge has overwhelmed the state’s unemployment system. Phone lines have been jammed. Claimants who email L&I can expect to wait up to 11 days for a response. And it takes two or three weeks for benefits to kick in, even under normal circumstances, once claims are filed. It’s unclear to what extent the state will be able to expedite processing for filers delayed while the system is flooded.

The $600 additional federal benefit will arrive separately, according to Susan Dickinson, L&I’s unemployment compensation benefits policy director.

L&I has extended normal filing deadlines to ensure filers get the full compensation they’re eligible for. To help with the workload, retired staffers will return to work within the next week or so and 100 new people will be hired. Personnel from other state departments (including the Office of Inspector General) also will transfer to L&I to help with the workload, according to the department’s Secretary Jerry Oleksiak.

The state Senate Appropriations Committee will consider transferring $70 million to L&I to help pay for the returning retirees and new staff; however, that might not cover the entire cost, Oleksiak said.

It’s unclear which sectors and counties have been hardest hit by the economy shutting down to try to contain COVID-19, in part because the numbers haven’t been fully vetted by federal officials yet.

Philly cases rise significantly

Philadelphia announced 539 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths, city officials reported Monday.

There are now 3,728 confirmed cases in the city.

Health Commissioner Tom Farley said 495 patients are in city hospitals. He added that 40 percent of hospital beds remain open.

“Right now we’re fine, but if this gets much worse we want to make sure we’re fine,” Farley said.

The health commissioner also spoke about a survey the city conducted to gauge adherence to social distancing recommendations. The data suggests that over half of Philadelphians are following guidance “very closely.”

“I’d give the city a good B-plus,” said Farley.

Pa. sees slight drop in new cases

There are now nearly 13,000 Pennsylvanians who’ve tested positive for COVID-19, according to newly released state data.

From Sunday to Monday, the state confirmed 1,470 new cases. That’s slightly lower than the number of new cases confirmed on Sunday (1,493).

In total, 12,980 Pennsylvanians are confirmed to have the virus.

The state also announced twelve new deaths on Monday, bringing Pennsylvania’s total to 162 since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Governor Tom Wolf said social distancing measures and the state’s stay-at-home order seem to be working. But he and Secretary of Health Rachel Levine cautioned against complacency.

“It is way too early to tell whether we’re seeing a true plateau in the numbers of new cases,” said Levine. “We watch these over three- and seven-day intervals and we’ll be watching the rates really carefully.”

Right now, Levine said, roughly 40% of ICU beds and half of all hospital beds in the state are available.

Wolf sounded cautiously optimistic that the state’s case surge wouldn’t exceed its hospital capacity.

“The surge may not be as great as we once anticipated. That’s our fervent hope,” Wolf said. “And the only way we get to that point, where we’re not outstripping the capacity of our health care system, is to stay at home.”

Pennsylvania’s statewide stay-at-home order runs through April 30th. Wolf has not yet said whether he’ll extend it.

Coronavirus vaccine trial starts today, area volunteers receive doses

A Montgomery County pharmaceutical company will begin testing a coronavirus vaccine today in human subjects.

INOVIO Pharmaceuticals, Inc. — based in Plymouth Meeting — announced Monday that it has received clearance from the FDA to begin a trial this week with up to 40 healthy volunteers.

Those volunteers will receive two doses of the trial treatment, four weeks apart — some at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school and some at a separate site in Kansas City, Missouri.

The purpose of this Phase 1 trial is to see if the treatment produces adverse side effects and to gauge the appropriate dosage. Subjects will not be intentionally exposed to COVID-19 after receiving the experimental vaccine.

The company said it expects initial data from the trial by late summer and hopes to have one million doses available by the end of the year for “additional trials and emergency use.”

Violent crime up in Philly

Violent crime in Philadelphia increased last week for the first time in a month, according to police.

Between March 30 and April 5, police recorded 220 violent crimes, including homicides, shootings and armed robberies. There were 217 violent crimes the week before. Homicides dipped during the stretch from 5 to 3, but shootings increased 30% from 57 to 74.

Violent crime, however, is still down. Since March 9, a day before the city reported its first confirmed case of the coronavirus, it has dipped 20%.

Property crime in Philadelphia increased 4.9% last week. The category includes burglaries and car break-ins and car thefts. Similar to violent crime, property crime is also down since March 9 – 14%.

‘Mobile hospital’ coming to MontCo

Montgomery County will soon announce the site of a “mobile hospital” it’s building in preparation for a potential surge in coronavirus patients, according to county chair Valerie Arkoosh.

Details on the location will likely be available tomorrow, Arkoosh added.

“It’s on its way and we will be grateful to have it here in the county,” she said.

Montgomery County announced 145 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the county total to 1,134.

The percent of positive tests has also crept up, Arkoosh said, rising from around 15 percent to 21 percent. Those numbers are “consistent with the modeling,” she added.

County officials expect the spread to peak sometime next week. Arkoosh said that right now there are empty hospital beds at all of the county’s hospitals.

“We’re feeling like we’re ok today,” said Arkoosh. “But people have to stay home. There’s just no substitute for that.”

Five ICE detainees in Pa. test positive for COVID-19

Five immigrants being held at federal detention facilities in Pennsylvania have tested positive for coronavirus, officials announced over the weekend.

Four of the patients are at a facility in Pike County, northeast of Scranton. The fifth is being held at a detention center in York County.

According to a statement on ICE’s website, “the individuals have been quarantined and are receiving care. Consistent with CDC guidelines, those who have come in contact with these individuals have been cohorted and are being monitored for symptoms.”

Advocates have pressured the federal government to release immigrants in federal custody, arguing that detention centers could fuel viral outbreaks.

Two Trader Joe’s locations to close temporarily this week

Two Center City outposts of the Trader Joe’s supermarket chain will close temporarily this week for what the company calls “precautionary cleaning and sanitization.”

The location at 2121 Market Street will be closed today and will reopen on Tuesday. A second store at 1324 Arch Street will shut down on Tuesday and reopen on Wednesday.

The chain also announced planned closures in New York and Louisiana over the next two days.

Pa. warns almost 200 ‘non-life-sustaining businesses’

Police in Pennsylvania handed out warnings to 191 non-life-sustaining businesses over the weekend, according to newly released data. That includes five warnings to businesses in the region covering Philadelphia, Montgomery and Delaware Counties; 11 in the Bucks, Lehigh and Northampton County region; and 15 in the Chester, Lancaster and York County region.

The state has yet to give any citations to businesses in violation of Gov. Tom Wolf’s business-closure order.

Wolf ordered all non-essential businesses in the state to close on March 19, and enforcement began on March 23.

WHYY’s Aaron Moselle and WITF’s Emily Previti contributed reporting.

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