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Philly will use Temple Liacouras Center for Coronavirus overflow space; first COVID-19 cases in city jails reported

Philadelphia streets have slowed down in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia streets have slowed down in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated 5:36 p.m.

To date, there are 2,325 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 8,825 in New Jersey, and 165 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 637 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 22, New Jersey’s at 108, and Delaware’s at 2.

The Philadelphia Department of Health reported two new coronavirus deaths on Friday – both women in their 70s with underlying medical conditions. One of them was a resident at a nursing home, where the city had reported a confirmed case of the virus on March 21. Nursing homes are being asked by the city to screen all staff before they enter the building, wear personal protective equipment at all times, separate out patients who are infected, and limit all visitors to prevent further contamination.

The number of new cases in Philadelphia continues to rise each day. With 154 new cases in the last 24 hours, the total number of cases in the city is up to 637. Roughly 8% of people who have tested positive for coronavirus in Philadelphia required hospitalization at some point during their illness.

Health Commissioner Tom Farley also confirmed the first infection in a Department of Corrections employee, and the first inmate at the city jail.

There have now been documented COVID-19 cases in every zip code of the city. The city will have a map of cases on its website available in the coming days.

A day after announcing the city had given up on negotiations with the owner of the shuttered Hahnemann Hospital, Mayor Jim Kenney confirmed that Temple’s Liacouras Center, its parking garage and a nearby pavilion will be available for patient overflow space. The 10,000-seat arena could be used to treat non-acute patients with coronavirus, or other patients without coronavirus, in the event that hospitals run out of space, and is being offered to the city at no rental cost. Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the site would be able to treat 250 patients, and he said he was cautiously optimistic that FEMA would be able to help staff the site. FEMA, by way of PEMA, will provide the equipment such as hospital beds, tents and other medical gear.

There are roughly 700 ventilators in Philadelphia. Tom Farley said there was too much uncertainty to know how many the city’s hospitals will need.

“If this virus were to spread unchecked, we know that we would greatly exceed the amount of ventilators we have,” he said, adding that hopefully the social distancing measures residents have taken will work to curb the demand. Farley said his department is looking at a range of options to find other air-pumping alternatives in the event that there does end up being a shortage of ventilators.

The mayor added that he hopes the 10,000-seat arena on North Broad Street will not need to be used at all.

Abernathy said the 150-room quarantine site at the Holiday Inn Express in Center City, designed for those who cannot quarantine at home, should be fully operational starting this weekend.

Since the administration launched the PHL COVID-19 fund on March 20, the fund has raised almost $2 million, bringing its total to $8.25 million. It has more than 300 requests for funding from nonprofits around the region.

Surrounding counties

As of Friday afternoon, Bucks County has 16 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 144.

Of those 144 cases, 10 are in the hospital. Four of those patients are in critical condition.

Two first responders have coronavirus, but are recovering and in stable condition, Dr. David Damsker, who directs the Bucks County Health Department, said during a Friday news conference.

Damsker said the county has “way more” than the 144 cases that are on record to date.

Montgomery County added 58 new COVID-19 cases on Friday. More than two thirds of those cases are under the age of 60.

There are now 371 cases in 47 of the county’s 62 municipalities.

The county has now recorded four coronavirus-related deaths. The most recent death was a 95-year-old man from Cheltenham Township.

Statewide

Pennsylvania on Friday reported 531 new cases of COVID-19. The state now has 2,325 cases in 50 counties.

Of the state’s coronavirus cases, 76 have been placed in an ICU, and 44 have needed ventilators.

The state has 3,400 licensed ICU beds. Forty percent of them are currently available.

There were 560 new cases on Thursday. Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s Health Secretary, said Friday that the decline was not “statistically significant.” The number of new cases would need to drop over a period of time for it to be noteworthy, she said, adding that “we don’t know when the surge is going to be.”

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf also signed three bills tied to the coronavirus pandemic in the state.

House Bill 1232 provides $50 million for medical equipment and supplies for hospitals, nursing facilities and emergency medical services. Senate Bill 422 officially reschedules the Pennsylvania primary from April 28 to June 2. And Senate Bill 751 waives the requirement for Pennsylvania schools to be in session for at least 180 days.

Bucks bell company sues Wolf over closure

Pennsylvania is finishing its first week of mandatory coronavirus closures for businesses deemed non-life-sustaining, and it already appears the order could land the commonwealth in court.

Schulmerich Bells LLC — a Bucks County-based manufacturer of musical handbells and handchimes — has filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Tom Wolf in an effort to get compensation for revenue lost during the closure.

The company and several employees who are party to the suit say they’re seeking class-action status, in hopes of winning restitution for other businesses in similar situations.

Schulmerich Chairman Jonathan Goldstein said the issue isn’t that the business had to close — in fact, he’s on board with the COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

“The governor has to have a free hand to, in an organized, fair, open, transparent way, close and open certain businesses for the benefit of the public,” Goldstein said. “What he cannot do, is do so without compensating the people whose businesses and jobs have been taken for the benefit of the public health.”

The company, which manufactures bells in Hatfield, plans to argue its case based on the Takings Clause, a section of the Fifth Amendment that says private property can’t be taken for public use without “just compensation.”

Specifically, Goldstein said Schulmerich is leaning on a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case, Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, in which the court found that the clause can apply when a government deprives a property owner of “all economically beneficial uses [of property] in the name of the common good.”

Schulmerich hasn’t calculated damages yet. Goldstein said they need to figure out how many people are being affected by what he calls an “arbitrary and capricious process.”

A spokesperson for Wolf said the state hasn’t been served yet, and can’t comment until that happens.

Pa. offers searchable database of open child care centers

Pennsylvania is making it easier for health care workers, first responders, and other essential personnel to find child care during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s Department of Human Services now has a searchable database of all the child care centers approved to stay open during the pandemic. Parents can sort through more than 600 centers by name or geography.

The majority of child care centers in the state remain closed.

“While many Pennsylvanians are responsibly heeding guidance from the Department of Health to stay home, there are still many thousands of essential workers whose jobs require that they go out into the world and do work that makes it possible for the rest of us to stay safe and healthy. For many of these workers, safe and stable child care is an essential need,”  DHS Secretary Teresa Miller said in a statement.

Pennsylvania has ordered all licensed child care centers and group child care homes operating outside of the home to close until further notice. The centers that are part of the DHS database have waivers to serve the children of workers whom the state has deemed essential during the pandemic, though the centers can decide to close at any time.

“I urge all families who rely on child care to make a backup plan, so if that has to happen, your family will be safe and cared for,” said Miller.

Parents who are not considered essential employees can find home-based child care options at www.findchildcare.pa.gov. Those businesses are authorized to operate during the pandemic.

Miller said her department has not been informed of any confirmed cases of COVID-19 stemming from child care centers in the state.

Convention Center, Aramark donate food from canceled events

The Pennsylvania Convention Center, in partnership with Aramark, has donated at least 800 pounds of perishable food items this week to help feed low-income families and homeless people during the coronavirus pandemic.

The surplus food comes from canceled events at the Convention Center and was sent to Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission and Valley Youth House’s Achieving Independence Center.

“With so many individuals and families struggling during this difficult time, we wanted to make sure that this food was put to good use,” Gregory J. Fox, chairman of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, said in a release.

More than 500 pounds of dairy and produce were donated to Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, the city’s largest emergency homeless shelter.

Nearly 300 pounds of dairy and produce were donated to Valley Youth House. The Achieving Independence Center helps young people who are about —  or have — aged out of the foster care system.

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