Pa. coronavirus recovery: International flights return to Philly

Philadelphia International Airport hallway (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

Philadelphia International Airport hallway (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

International flights return to Philly

For the first time in five months, international flights from countries deemed high-risk will be allowed to resume at the Philadelphia International Airport on Monday.

The change comes thanks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has decided international travelers don’t need to be routed through select airports anymore.

Flights from China, Iran, Brazil and most of Europe have been halted since March, when federal officials designated 15 airports to screen international travelers it considered high-risk.

Philadelphia International wasn’t among them.

Airport officials have been trying for a while to get clearance to resume international flights. But it will likely take a while before those flights actually get running.

CEO Chellie Cameron says the airline has to rebuild its travel pathways. The airport is reporting a significant budget deficit.

Bigger outdoor gatherings coming to the city; indoor still limited

Starting Monday, Philadelphia plans to increase its limit on outdoor crowd sizes from 50 to 150, though indoor gatherings are still limited to 25 people.

Those restrictions include dining, Health Secretary Thomas Farley said.

“We have no plans to expand that right now,” Farley said of indoor dining. “The reason we expanded outdoor gatherings is to encourage people to go outdoors, especially as the weather is nice.”

Indoor dining only resumed on Tuesday, and Farley said it’s still “too early” to say how well it’s going.

COVID-19 cases have been holding fairly steady in the city. In the past day, there have been 77 new cases for a total of 34,886 since the pandemic began. There have been no new deaths, though a data update increased the fatality tally — 1,763 — by one.

It has now been six months since Philadelphia diagnosed its first case, and Farley took some time Thursday to say he thinks the city has made “huge progress” since those “dark times.”

Cases peaked in mid-April, when about 800 people were being admitted to city hospitals every week. In one week that month, 250 people died.

Since then, Farley said, the city has expanded testing to more than 60 sites, turnaround times have decreased to a couple days, and about 90% of Philadelphians are wearing masks into stores.

There are currently about 175 people hospitalized with the virus — a 90% decrease since April.

But, Farley added, there are still some factors that make him nervous.

He cautioned Eagles fans about celebration plans for the season opener on Sunday. Some people, he noted, may be inclined to tailgate. But he thinks they should keep events just to family and a few close friends.

Even if it’s outside, he said, gathering and eating together remains “high-risk.”

Philly schools chief says tech is working well, asks students to stop ‘Zoom-bombing’

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite says despite some technical issues, the school year is off to a strong start.

“It’s going as well as one could expect, given the circumstances,” Hite said at his weekly Thursday press conference.

Hite said issues with district servers that prevented some students from connecting to virtual school last week have been resolved. However, Hite said at least three students have joined and disrupted virtual classes they were not part of since the start of school, a practice known as “zoom-bombing.”

“Anyone who participated in these Zoom pranks will be held accountable,” Hite said.

Hite also seemed to walk back the district’s plan to transfer teachers to account for shifts in enrollment by October 5, a practice that has long frustrated educators, and is now considered especially concerning.

Hite said that the transfers — known as ‘leveling’ — will likely be delayed.

“We don’t want to do that now, and then … whenever we come back to in-person instruction we may have to do that again,” he said.

Hite also announced some logistical changes for laptop and food pickup.

Starting Monday, September 14, the main hub for pick-ups or service on a district-issued Chromebook laptop will move to South Philadelphia High School.

Starting Friday, September 18, the window to pick up food boxes with five days of breakfast and lunch will move from Thursday to Friday, and expand to 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 63 sites across the city.

Century 21 is COVID-19’s latest retail casualty

Century 21, a discount retailer that has had a location in Center City Philadelphia since 2014, announced it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is shuttering all its locations.

The cause, the chain said Thursday, is insurance providers’ nonpayment of about $175 million the company believes it is due for COVID-19-induced losses.

Century 21, which sells reduced-price clothing, cosmetics and home goods, has been around since 1961. Before its closure announcement, it had 13 locations nationwide. Those stores were in New York, New Jersey and Florida, along with Pennsylvania.

The store on Philly’s Market street was one of the biggest in the area. The company that owns its building, PREIT, already sustained heavy losses since the pandemic began — on top of struggles to adapt to a rise in online shopping.

Century 21 says it’s launching a going-out-of-business sale in its stores and online ahead of liquidation.

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