Pa. coronavirus recovery: Daily COVID case counts in Philly no longer falling

Abdelmgeed Muhammad Elgamel stands outside of his produce market on Allegheny Avenue in Kensington. (Brad Larrison/WHYY)

Abdelmgeed Muhammad Elgamel stands outside of his produce market on Allegheny Avenue in Kensington. (Brad Larrison/WHYY)

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Updated 4:05 p.m.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 85,988 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, with 6,614 deaths in the commonwealth.

Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health reported 25,991 cases and 1,579 deaths.

Daily COVID case counts in Philly no longer falling

After weeks of declining new case numbers, “daily COVID case counts in Philadelphia are no longer falling,” said city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley on Monday. “That, combined with the rise of cases throughout the country, is troubling.” Over the weekend, the City confirmed 298 new cases of the coronavirus, but recorded no new fatalities.

The City has mandated mask-wearing both indoors and when outside and when near people not in the same household, in response to the increase. Farley warned that spikes in other states could push rates up again in Pennsylvania, and said the City “will be cautious about any further restarting of activities.”

Philadelphia is slated to move to the “green” phase of Governor Tom Wolf’s reopening plan on Friday, July 3, but Philadelphia officials said they might be updating that timeline during a press conference on Tuesday, June 30.

Statewide, Pennsylvania recorded 492 additional positive cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, raising the total to 85,988 since the start of the pandemic. New cases have plateaued, averaging 532 a day during the previous week. That’s down from a peak of nearly 2,000 cases a day in April.

Philly teachers prefer “hybrid” model when schools return

A slim majority of Philadelphia public-school staffers think students should return partially to school this fall while continuing to receive some of their education online, according to a recent survey released by the city’s teachers’ union.

The survey — which included responses from nearly 6,000 members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers — showed that 56% of staffers support the idea of a so-called “hybrid” model. Among the hybrid models floated in the survey, PFT members were most drawn to a “staggered weeks” approach where students did one week of in-person school followed by an all-online week.

The survey results, however, indicate that there’s no strong consensus among Philadelphia school staff.

When asked whether school should be fully online this fall, about 35% agreed, about 35% disagreed, and about 30% were neutral.

The School District of Philadelphia closed its schools in mid-March and then spent over a month pivoting to online instruction — a process that involved purchasing and distributing tens of thousands of laptops. Formal online instruction began in early May and lasted through mid-June. On an average week, about two-thirds of students participated in virtual assignments.

District officials say they’re considering several restart plans for the fall, including all virtual classes, all in-person classes, or some mix of both.

On the same day the PFT released its survey, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged schools to resume in-person classes this fall. The AAP said that the risk of coronavirus transmission among children appears to be low and argued that they were outweighed by the social and educational costs of longer-term school closures.

The health risks, however, are substantially higher for school staff — especially older educators. That’s why many experts believe safety measures should focus on protecting adults who work in schools.

WHYY’s Avi Wolfman-Arent contributed reporting.

Pa. to launch small-business grant support program for ‘mom and pop shops’

Businesses that have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic can apply for grants from the state starting June 30.

The grants will range from $5,000 to $50,000 and come from a $225 million fund provided by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Applications will be evaluated based on need, not by the order in which they are received.

The program is intended to boost businesses that may have lost out on earlier rounds of federal pandemic support. Earlier loan programs, such as the Payroll Protection Program, were first-come, first-served, and often relied on a preexisting relationship with a bank. As a result, many smaller businesses or those owned by entrepreneurs of color reported being locked out of government support.

“We know that most of the federal dollars did not reach our hair salons, our bakeries,” said Dan Betancourt, president and CEO of Community First Fund, a community development financial institution (CDFI)  with outposts across central and Eastern Pennsylvania.

The program will aim to serve historically disadvantaged businesses, and grants will be awarded through connections to CDFIs, lenders more likely to have relationships in lower-income areas.

“This is a grant program and not a loan program, and I will keep on saying that,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes. The grants will go to  “the mom and pop shops.”

The grant applications open at 9 a.m. on June 30 at PABusinessGrants.com.

Pennsylvania unemployment benefits extension to kick in

An extension of unemployment benefits triggered by Pennsylvania’s high unemployment rate will go into effect this coming weekend, said state Department of Labor and Industry officials.

The “Extended Benefits” program provides up to 13 weeks of additional benefits, or the equivalent of half of the amount a person received in regular UC benefits.

After hitting a record 15.1% in April, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate dropped to a still-inflated 13.1% in May. Those conditions triggered the extension.

There is no application for extended benefits. When existing benefits run out, the Department of Labor and Industry will mail out a letter with information about how to file weekly claims for the extended benefits. All of the eligibility criteria remains the same.

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