Pa. coronavirus recovery: Face masks will be required inside all Pa. schools

Jules E. Mastbaum High School on Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Jules E. Mastbaum High School on Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated 5:30 p.m.

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On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 92,867 coronavirus cases since the coronavirus pandemic began, and 6,848 deaths.

Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health has reported 27,228 cases and 1,627 deaths as of Thursday.

Face masks will be required inside all Pa. schools

Students and staff will be required to wear face masks when they return to school, according to new guidelines from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The guidelines — issued on the heels of an executive order requiring state residents to wear face masks whenever they leave the house — apply to all people in all school buildings who are 2 years old and older, including individuals at pre-K programs, public K-12 schools, private and parochial schools, brick-and-mortar cyber charter schools, and career and technical centers.

Under the order, students and staff are allowed to remove their masks if they are eating or drinking and at least six feet apart, seated at desks or assigned workspaces that are at least six feet apart, or engaged in any other activity and at least six feet apart.

Students with medical conditions, including respiratory issues or mental health conditions or disabilities, are not required to wear face masks at school.

‘Get with the program’

Philly is launching a citywide marketing campaign to get more people to follow an executive order requiring residents to wear face masks whenever they leave the house.

Mayor Jim Kenney said the “Mask Up” campaign is also designed to combat “mixed messaging” around mask-wearing at the federal level.

“This campaign aims to normalize mask use for everyone,” said Kenney during a virtual news conference.

A survey conducted in early May by the city’s Department of Health with the help of the University of Pennsylvania, found that 75% of residents agree that everyone should wear a face mask every time they leave home.

A forthcoming survey found that 1 in 4 Philly residents is either uncertain or opposed to using face masks, said Kenney.

“I urge these folks to get with the program and wear a mask. It will protect your neighbors — just as they are protecting you with their mask,” he said.

The “Mask Up” campaign will use digital and print advertising, bus wraps, and posters to spread the message.

The campaign will cost the city $750,000 and is scheduled to run through the end of September.

It comes after Philadelphia’s daily count of positive COVID-19 cases stopped decreasing.

On Thursday, the city reported 159 new positive cases, bringing the total to 27,228 since the start of the pandemic. Two more residents have died from the virus, bringing the total to 1,627.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday the city has been averaging 115 new cases a day with 5-6% of patients testing positive for COVID-19.

New relief program will help food retailers hurt by the pandemic

Pennsylvania has launched a $10 million relief program for food retailers that offer fresh produce and other healthy grocery items to low-income residents.

Funded through the CARES Act, the Fresh Food Financing Initiative COVID-19 Relief Fund will provide one-time grants to businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including grocery stores, corner stores, convenience stores and neighborhood markets.

The hope is that the grants will provide financial stability to these businesses while increasing access to healthy, affordable groceries.

“Pennsylvania’s food retailers stepped up to the plate to protect those putting food on the shelf, to think outside of the box to protect the most vulnerable, and to make investments to support those using assistance programs such as SNAP and WIC to support their families,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement. “I will be forever grateful to those who have worked hard to ensure food is always accessible through this pandemic; our frontline workers in grocery stores and farmers markets are among Pennsylvania’s heroes.”

To qualify, more than 50% of sales must be from staple and perishable foods. The business must also serve customers who live in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, and it must accept the SNAP and WIC programs to the “maximum extent possible.”

Based on the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had in minority communities, priority will be given to retailers in Black and brown neighborhoods, especially minority-owned businesses. Stores located in a USDA-designated food desert will also be given preference.

Applications will be accepted through Aug. 14.

“Little is as life-sustaining as providing access to fresh, healthy food, especially in food-insecure areas. This funding will help alleviate the financial burdens placed on Pennsylvania’s food system during the pandemic and will ensure continued access to nutritional foods as we work toward greater recovery,” said Dennis Davis, secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development, in a statement.

Gov. Wolf extends housing protections for Pa. residents

Amid an uptick in COVD-19 cases in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has signed an executive order to keep homeowners and renters in their homes through August.

Under the order, lenders and property owners can not pursue foreclosure or eviction actions until Aug. 31.

“I am taking this action to help families know they will have a roof over their heads and a place to live while all of us fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wolf said in a statement. “It takes one more burden off of people who are struggling and ensures that families can remain in their homes so they can protect their health and well-being.”

The order takes effect on Friday, when a previous executive order suspending evictions and foreclosures is set to expire.

The new order is designed to help those who have not already received housing relief or assistance from the state, through a federal foreclosure moratorium program, or by judicial order.

It comes roughly two months after Wolf signed legislation providing $150 million for rental assistance and $25 million for mortgage assistance through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. PHFA began accepting applications July 6.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended eviction and foreclosure protections for housing until Aug. 31.

Delco puts bars and restaurants on notice as COVID-19 cases rise

As coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania spike among young people, Delaware County wants to remind them that bars and parties are places where chances of transmission are high. Several reports have been filed in the county regarding bars filled over capacity and patrons standing at the bar crowding together and not wearing masks. The county reminded bar employees and patrons what precautions still need to be taken in the green phase.

  • Standing in bar areas is not permitted. All patrons must be seated.
  • A maximum of four customers who have a common relationship may sit together at the bar while adhering to the 6-foot physical distance guidelines.
  • All customers must wear masks while entering, exiting, or traveling throughout the restaurant or bar. Masks may be removed while seated.
  • Employees are required to wear a mask while working at a restaurant or bar.

More detailed guidance for bars and restaurants can be found here.

The county is cracking down on violators of social distancing and mask-wearing protocols. This past weekend, State Police inspected over 2,000 bars in Pennsylvania. Patrons, residents and other business owners are asked to report businesses that are not following the order. Reports can be made to the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement by phone (at 1-800-932-0602) or online.

Bar owners who are found to be out of compliance may face a citation, fine and/or a suspension of their license.

The county reiterated that mask-wearing and social distancing are necessary, not only for young people to protect themselves from the virus, but to protect elders and the immunocompromised. These mitigation measures can also help prevent a backslide into the yellow and red phases and the business closures that would result.

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