Coronavirus update: Philadelphia will write new budget due to economic impact of pandemic

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)

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Updated 5:45 p.m.

As of Tuesday morning, there are 14,819 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 44,416 in New Jersey, and 928 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 4,272 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 240, New Jersey’s at 1,232, and Delaware’s at 16.

Philadelphia will write new budget due to economic impact of pandemic, could cut services

Philadelphia has 544 new cases of COVID-19 since yesterday, bringing the city to a new total of 4,272, according to health commissioner Thomas Farley. There have been 20 new deaths, bringing the city’s total to 65. Of those, 26 lived in a nursing home and 43 were above the age of 70. Farley said there are clusters of infections in places where people live together, like nursing homes, behavioral health facilities, and the city jail, where four more incarcerated people tested positive.

Farley said that as of this morning, 554 people with COVID-19 were in city hospitals, but 40 percent of hospital beds are still available. However, the city is still looking for volunteer medical staff, like doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician’s assistants.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the city’s finance and budget directors will work on a new budget and five-year plan, give the economic impact of the pandemic. Kenney said the city has been spending a lot more and getting a lot less tax revenue. For example, the city has been getting a lot less occupancy taxes from hotels and liquor taxes from restaurants.

“When there’s no money, there’s no money,” he said. “Right now we have been taking in hardly anything.”

He added that the city has to balance its budget, and cannot run a deficit or print money like the federal government can, so it means this will affect city services and employees.

“It’s almost like a depression and a pandemic at the same time, and I don’t know if the country has ever gone through that,” Kenney said.

He said the city will present a new budget to City Council by May 1.

When asked about the COVID-19 testing site in South Philly closing this Friday, Farley said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up 40 of these sites across the county and are closing all of them as of this Friday. He said the city could have kept it running with its own resources, but decided that spreading resources out to several sites makes more sense.

When asked about how many police officers tested positive for COVID-19, city Managing Director Brian Abernathy said it is not hundreds, and the police have cloth masks to wear in public.

Pa. working to collect racial breakdown of COVID-19 cases

As of Tuesday afternoon, there are 14,819 confirmed COVID-19 cases across all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

Health care workers account for 664 cases, while long-term care facilities and nursing homes account for 674 of the state’s cases, according to Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

With the state reporting an additional 78 deaths, the largest single-day rise in fatalities, the total number of COVID-19 deaths now stands at 240.

Levine said all of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities have been in adult patients, most of them older than 65.

Though the state continues to track the number of cases out of nursing homes and how many are health care workers, state health officials hope to eventually have a breakdown of COVID-19 patients by race.

“One of the challenges we’ve had is the health care systems don’t tend to put in racial data, and so that’s a limitation for us,” Levine said, adding the state is looking at ways to collect that information, which the state would release.

That data has shown deep disparities in states like Louisiana where more than 70% of coronavirus patients are Black, though Black residents account for 32% of the population.

Levine couldn’t say with certainty how many fatalities had other underlying health conditions.

Patients with other underlying conditions are also hard to track.

Levine said, in general, the number of fatalities among COVID-19 patients with other conditions such as heart disease, chronic lung disease, and diabetes, was increasing. Exact numbers, however, are hard to produce, she said, because of the amount of investigating that needs to go each case.

Other numbers are easier to track.

Levine said about 11% — 1,665 cases — of the state’s cases have required hospitalization and 548 patients have required ventilators.

Still, Levine said 51% of hospital beds, 40% ICU beds, and 70% ventilators remain available for use.

Pa. reports largest single-day rise in COVID-19 fatalities

The Pennsylvania Department of Health posted new COVID-19 numbers Tuesday, reporting 78 more deaths since Monday, for a new total of 240.

The rise from 162 deaths to 240 represented a 48% increase, the largest single bump in reported fatalities since the start of the crisis here. The previous largest single-day increase was 34 fatalities reported April 4.

22 people released from immigrant detention in Pa.

A federal district court judge in Pennsylvania has granted the release of 22 people in immigration detention in two county jails in York County and Pike County. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and a law firm filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, saying the civil plaintiffs are at high risk of dying or getting seriously ill because of their age or underlying health conditions, like respiratory problems, high blood pressure, asthma, and hepatitis C.

In late March, immigrant detainees in York County staged a hunger strike to protest the lack of precautions around the COVID-19 pandemic. A detainee told WHYY’s Laura Benshoff that they are “like chickens in a chicken coop.”

Many have called for Immigration and Customers Enforcement to release detainees. Two immigrant detainees with underlying medical conditions were released from the Pike County jail in late March.

Montgomery County has 160 new COVID-19 cases, five deaths

Montgomery County reported 160 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the total to 1,294, said Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. All are from municipalities that have already had cases. Five more people have died, all of them age 75 or above. Three died in a hospital. Arkoosh said all hospitals in the county still have open beds.

She added that of the 75 long-term care facilities in the county that are licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 34 have reported positive cases of COVID-19, some as few as 1-5 cases, and one as much as 20-25 cases. There are 140 residents with COVID-19, and 53 staff members. Arkoosh said the county’s offices of public health and senior services are in touch with those facilities everyday.

The testing site at Temple University’s Ambler campus will close on Friday. Arkoosh said the county did not decide to close the site; that came from the federal government, which provides the swabs, test kits, and the contract with Lab Corp to test 250 samples per day. She said the county does not have more kits, nor does it have a lab committed to run tests everyday.

“We’re sad about it too,” she said. “I wish we had a way to magically produce more test kits, but we just don’t.”

She added that as of yesterday, the site had tested more than 4,200 people, 61% of the results have come back, and hopefully 5,000 will have been tested by the time the site closes on Friday. She said all hospitals in the county can now do tests, but tests will still be prioritized for those who are immunocompromised, have underlying health conditions, or work as first responders and health care workers.

Arkoosh also confirmed a report from the Pottstown Mercury that five employees at the Limerick Generating Station tested positive for COVID-19, with 44 in quarantine.

She said the county parks have been closed since the pandemic started, but trails are still open and that will continue as long as people practice social distancing.

“We are hearing from our park rangers that people are not practicing social distancing,” she said. “We will close our trails if people can’t practice social distancing on our trails because it’s just not safe.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Joseph Gail said the Register of Wills office, which collects inheritance tax, issues marriage license and accepts petitions on end of life decisions has accepted electronic filing since the start of the pandemic. He added procedures that require a swearing in ceremony or procedures can be done via online video.

DelCo “doing ok” on hospital beds

Delaware County announced 76 new positive cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths on Tuesday.

That brings the total number of cases in the county to 898 and the total number of deaths to 20.

During a Tuesday press conference, Tim Boyce, director of the county’s Department of Emergency Services, said officials were expecting hospitalizations to peak around April 20.

Delaware County has set aside Glen Mills — a shuttered reform school — as a potential surge site. But Boyce said officials are hoping local hospitals have sufficient capacity.

“Our hospitals are doing OK,” Boyce said, declining to give specific numbers. “There are no unmet needs.”

Councilmember Christine Reuther said the county is seeking volunteer poll workers for Pennsylvania’s primary election, now scheduled for early June.

“The people who’ve really been the backbone of our election boards are senior citizens,” Reuther said. “But many of them have decided — very prudently — that if the virus is still circulating they will not be working the polls.”

The council is seeking “temporary fill-ins” for the upcoming election.

Delaware County will also participate in a new program — recently unveiled by neighboring Chester County — to administer antibody tests to high-priority personnel.

The Chester County Health Department is overseeing the pandemic response in Delaware County because Delaware County does not have its own health department.

First responders, health care workers, staff at long-term care facilities, and staff and people incarcerated at the G.W. Hill Correctional facility will be first in line for the tests, said Jeanne Kasner, director of the Chester County Health Department.

“Having this information is critical in allowing Delaware County to address workforce prioritization,” said Kasner.

The county has received 10,000 kits so far and is expecting a second shipment of 10,000, Kasner added. The tests require a drop of blood and yield results in about 15 minutes.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to provide free dinners at two public housing sites

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will give out frozen dinners that feed a family of four to five at Westpark Apartments and Bartram Village, two Philadelphia Housing Authority sites. The dinners will be given out during daily pickup times for the existing student breakfast and school lunch program, with a different vegetarian and non-vegetarian option per day. The program is expected to run from April 6 till June 12, serving 2,000 dinners a week.

Worker at South Philly ShopRite confirmed to have COVID-19

ShopRite confirmed that a worker at the South Philadelphia supermarket location at 24th Street and Oregon Avenue has COVID-19. The store says on its Facebook page that the person is no longer working, and that people who have been in close contact will be in self-quarantine for 14 days.

Employees at MOM’s Organic Market in Center City have said they’ve been forced to work without adequate protection, and that their concerns have been ignored, as reported by WHYY’s Laura Benshoff. Around 10 employees delivered demands to local managers Monday, asking for breaks to restock and clean, limiting how many people can be in the store at a time, and designating an hour a day for the elderly and immunocompromised to shop.

The Washington Post reports that supermarket employees around the country are beginning to report coronavirus-related employee deaths, including a worker at a Trader Joe’s in Scarsdale, New York, and a greeter at a Giant store in Maryland.

Pa. prisoners making masks for state employees

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections says prisoners have made more than 185,000 masks since mid-March, for department staff and prisoners themselves. Over the weekend, the department started making masks for other state employees. Prisoners also make antibacterial soap, gowns, and disinfectant every day, working 12-hour shifts six days a week.

As of Monday, 11 department employees and four prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19.

Last week, the department started talking about releasing hundreds of inmates to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the system, as reported by WHYY’s Aaron Moselle. Pennsylvania has 25 state prisons housing roughly 45,000 people, all of whom have been under quarantine since late Sunday, with their movements restricted and meals served inside cells.

WHYY’s Avi Wolfman-Arent also contributed reporting.

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