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Coronavirus update: Philly death toll crosses 1,000

Mayor Jim Kenney (City of Philadelphia)

Mayor Jim Kenney (City of Philadelphia)

Updated at 4:55 p.m.

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Pennsylvania had 1,004 new positive COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, a 1.6% increase in total cases over the previous day. Over the past seven days, the commonwealth has recorded an increase of 7,149 cases, or 12.78%.

The state has recorded 63,105 positive cases so far out of more than 321,382 tested.

Statewide, Pennsylvania had 201 new deaths as of Thursday, for a total of 4,226. The Department of Health says this is the result of “continued work to reconcile data from various sources,” and that the deaths have occurred “over the past several weeks.”

Philadelphia reported 314 new positives Thursday. The city has recorded 19,093 cases so far, and 1,008 deaths.

Philly death toll crosses 1,000

Despite some “major progress,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner said Thursday that it’s “far too early” for the city to consider reopening, adding the virus will be part of city life “for a long time.”

“People are going to have to be wearing masks, they’re going to have to be keeping their distance, and they’re going to have to be washing their hands,” said Farley during a virtual news conference.

The city announced 314 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 19,093 since the beginning of the pandemic. Twenty-two more residents have died from the virus, sending the city’s death toll past 1,000.

Farley said the number of new daily cases, which so far this week has averaged 220, shows “major progress” is being made towards mitigating COVID-19.

“If anything, it appears the decline is accelerating,” said Farley.

The mixed news came as Mayor Jim Kenney publicly announced the creation of the COVID-19 Recovery Office, which is tasked with making “a more equitable and prosperous Philadelphia post-recovery.”

The new office will manage the city’s state and federal COVID-19 funding, coordinate grant applications, and help businesses in “hard hit” communities reopen, among other responsibilities.

“A public health and economic crisis of this magnitude requires a thoughtful and coordinated approach,” said Kenney.

Pa. Health Secretary: Still get your kids vaccinated

In her daily COVID-19 briefing, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine urged parents to take their children in for their normal rounds of vaccinations during the pandemic.

Triggered by a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics that showed fewer children getting their shots due to the state’s stay-at-home order, Levine said many pediatric clinics have reorganized their facilities to separate sick children from well children arriving for scheduled immunization appointments.

“I know parents are concerned about their children’s safety when visiting the doctor,” she said. “Unlike COVID-19, infectious diseases like measles, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox and polio already have effective, reliable, and safe vaccines.”

Levine added that immunization vaccines are required for children expecting to return to school in the fall.

Levine also said the state is currently working to resolve discrepancies between Philadelphia and Pennsylvania’s respective data regarding deaths from COVID-19, which caused an unusual spike in recorded deaths this week.

Levine was asked about an upcoming concert by country music star Kenny Chesney in Pittsburgh and the opening of Jersey Shore beaches, both scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.

Levine would not comment about New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s decision to open the beaches, but said “I would be concerned about traveling into any other states with a significant amount of community spread. My recommendations if people go there: practice social distancing, wash your hands, and take all precautions we talk about.”

As for the Chesney concert: “Pittsburgh and Allegheny County will go from red to yellow tomorrow [Friday],” she said. “Still not recommended to have large gatherings like that.”

Trump to visit distribution center in Allentown

President Donald Trump will be in Pennsylvania this afternoon to tour a distribution center of medical and surgical products for health care facilities, including personal protective equipment in the fight against the coronavirus.

Trump’s visit is to a warehouse of Virginia-based Owens and Minor in suburban Allentown. The White House said he will also deliver remarks.

It is Trump’s second visit to the battleground state of Pennsylvania this year. Its 20 electoral votes are perhaps this year’s premier electoral prize state after Trump’s unexpected win in Pennsylvania in 2016 helped pave his way to the White House. Trump did particularly well in the politically moderate Allentown area.

The visit comes as Trump has egged on GOP lawmakers and county leaders to defy the Democratic governor’s shutdown orders. Behind the rhetoric is a political fight over who will be blamed for the state’s economic devastation if it is not repaired by Election Day. The head of the Trump administration’s own coronavirus task force, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has warned against reopening states too quickly, as those states do not have the capacity to control new outbreaks.

Toomey calls on Wolf to ‘accelerate’ reopening

Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is calling on Gov. Tom Wolf to “accelerate” Pennsylvania’s reopening plan, now that the number of positive cases of COVID-19 is on the decline.

“It’s been clear now to me for at least several weeks that we are not going to overwhelm the capacity of Pennsylvania hospitals,” said Toomey during a virtual panel event Thursday. “That essential reason for the shutdown no longer exists.”

Toomey said the state’s stay-at-home orders are having a “huge” economic impact on small businesses and the broader Pennsylvania economy.

“Some of those businesses will fail and they’ll never be able to come back. And those are livelihoods that are going to be really badly set back for who knows how long,” he said.

In a statement, the Wolf administration said “prematurely” opening up the state will “result in deaths, and not just the loss of jobs.”

“The administration is hopeful that everyone will act in the best interest of public health. Reopening businesses too early will only extend the length of the economic hardships created by the pandemic,” said Wolf’s Deputy Chief of Staff Lyndsay Kensinger.

Wolf recently threatened several Pennsylvania counties that pledged to defy the state’s phased reopening plan.

In late April, a day after Wolf detailed his administration’s reopening plan, Toomey released his own framework for reopening the state, which calls for most of the state to “resume some level of economic activity immediately.”

“It’s time we move this along,” said Toomey on Thursday.

On Friday, 13 more counties in southwest Pennsylvania will move from “red” to “yellow” under the state’s color-coded reopening plan.

They are: Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Twenty-four counties in North and North-central Pennsylvania moved from “red” to “yellow” on May 8.

Stay-at-home orders for counties still in the “red” phase, including Philadelphia, have been extended until June 4.

Audit of Pa. business waiver program underway

Pennsylvania’s Auditor General said Thursday his review of Gov. Tom Wolf’s waiver process for businesses who had been seeking to remain open during the coronavirus shutdown is progressing.

Wolf ordered all businesses not deemed “life-sustaining” to close in mid-March, but allowed them to apply for waivers to reopen. After weeks of criticism from the media and lawmakers about what some saw as an opaque decision-making process, Wolf administration officials released a list of businesses that received waivers late last week: It included a comic book store, a scuba company and a taxidermist, among others.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a fellow Democrat, said at a press conference Thursday he is concerned that similar businesses received different answers on waiver requests, and questioned whether the process was subject to outside influence.

“Something I wasn’t aware of prior to starting [the audit] is how much outside correspondence, whether it be from lobbyists or legislatures, was also in there,” Pasquale said. “It was more significant than we were aware of.”

DePasquale has not set a date for sharing a report of his results. He said Thursday he expects to meet with officials who handled waiver requests at the Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development on May 21.

Nearly 90% of Montco deaths from long-term care facilities

Montgomery County reported 143 new positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 5,523 since the start of the pandemic. Eleven more residents have died from the virus, bringing the total of confirmed positive deaths to 454.

Nearly 90% of those deaths are tied to long-term care facilities.

To date, the county has recorded another 202 probable coronavirus deaths, meaning COVID-19 was listed as the cause of death, but has not yet been confirmed by lab results. Those cases may or may not be added to the county’s confirmed positive list.

On Thursday, Dr. Val Arkoosh, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, said the county is “absolutely” moving in the right direction, but warned that progress could easily disappear if residents stop following county and state coronavirus protocols.

“Given the amount of virus that is still in our midst, it would be very easy for this trend to reverse,” said Arkoosh during a virtual news conference.

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to announce another group of counties that can move from “red” to “yellow” under the state’s color-coded reopening plan. Arkoosh said Montgomery County will not be one of them.

WHYY’s Peter Crimmins, Miles Bryan and The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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